“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” - 1 Peter 4:12-14
Authoritarianism on the rise
Russia’s religious history is as complex and vast as its massive 6.6 million square mile geography (the U.S. is 3.7 mi2). Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many freedoms opened up to Russian citizens, including religious freedom. In more recent years and months, however, the freedom to live out one’s faith is increasingly restricted.
New laws—called the “Yarovaya” package—have established the most restrictive religious laws since the Soviet Union. Though inspired in the name of anti-terrorism following the bombing of a passenger airliner in 2015, the restrictions go so far as to define missionary activity, and then prohibit it. The enforcement of these laws are proving that government restrictions on the freedom of religion quickly result in the denial of basic civil rights like the freedoms of speech, assembly and freedom from unwarranted search and seizure.
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has a complex history and dominates the religious scene. To the extent Russians associate with the ROC, it serves primarily as a cultural identity and less of a lived faith. Over many decades the ROC has intertwined itself with the ruling government, from the Soviets to Putin. This has provided tangible benefits to the institution in recent history but continues to mislead many Russians into conflating the goals of the national government with the mission of the church. Some view the ROC as an enabler of the anti-missionary laws as the laws silence smaller but evangelistic religions, thereby eliminating competition in the religious and cultural arena.
Whatever the political motivations are for the recent anti-terrorism laws, in practice they heavily restrict the proclamation of the gospel. Very simply, such laws deny evangelism outside the walls of a church building. Specific instances of recent persecution include:
- Baptist pastor Pavel Pilipchuk was jailed for five days in April for preaching in public and for refusing to pay the initial fine (approximately two weeks’ wages), which then doubled upon being jailed.
- On the same day the new laws went into effect, a Baptist children’s camp in Noyabrsk was raided, and the pastor was soon charged and fined the minimum punishment of 5000 roubles (approx. $80 US).
- An American citizen and independent baptist pastor who has lived in Oryol since 2004, Donald Ossewaarde, was fined over $600 for convening a worship service in his home and for allegedly posting ads for them on nearby bulletin boards. His “trial” was completed within mere hours of his detainment and without opportunity to notify a defense attorney.
- There are many others.
- Pray for faithfulness, boldness and joy among followers of Christ in Russia, in spite of the new restrictions.
- Pray for the softening of hearts among government leaders who attempt to deny Russians the ability to worship Christ, both in assembly and in sharing their faith.
- Pray for the love of Christ to permeate leaders throughout Russia’s military and government. Pray for leaders who will navigate being patriotic Russians while not viewing the destruction of the United States as a God-ordained mission.
- Pray God would invigorate the Russian Orthodox Church with a faithful proclamation of the gospel and a renewed mission separate from government powers.
- Russia - via International Christian Concern
- Russia - U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom 2016 Report (PDF, published prior to enactment of Yarovaya law)
- Russia - Mission Eurasia, with additional prayer points